This Nighttime Heat Smells of London

A cousin had conveyed to my mother the strangeness of my behaviour one day when they came to visit. She and I had been messaging each other that morning, quite friendly, but when she arrived later in the afternoon, I did not say a word in her direction beyond a strained welcome. The day in question could have been two months or two weekends ago, the date so hard to define. I remember quite clearly three aunts & three uncles, a cousin, my parents, a brother, his girlfriend; overwhelming noise in the hardwalled reception, distributed drinks and others that had been enjoyed elsewhere. As one uncle entered, as though he had discovered an awesome secret of mine, shook my hand and asked—‘How’s the girlfriend?’ but, by that point, there was no girlfriend. The corner, where I sat staring at a laptop, must collect the sound from everywhere else, hold it in a cupped palm, bounce it off my head. At such times, one must focus with all their might to not sink. I distinctly recall my cousin holding attention with amusing anecdotes – ‘She always has very good stories!’ – and that the voice was far away, where others dashed in with cries. It was never my intention to offend her sensibilities, but it appeared that I had, to the extent she would remark upon it much later.

In winter, the windows could be open almost constantly, for the angle of the apartment did not permit Anglia’s westerly wind, so a chill rarely penetrated the living room. Now, in June, no breeze comes either. Plump trees with green leaves can been to not move, as if they were a photograph. What will make them shimmer? The temperature knob in the shower will go no lower.

This nighttime heat smells of London. I slept above the covers then, the windows hung out, a dribble of steam through the metal blinds that sunk underneath the bed. A French woman sat on the sheets, pinching the skin of my testicles up between her fingers and letting it fall like the peaks of whisked eggwhites. Who knew it would be the last summer I lived in London?

‘Why are you sitting here? Come sit with us.’ There was some mumbling in response, but at midnight, after all that had gone before, I was exhausted, and never have I had the energy of a young mother. Truthfully, I sought to be finally alone, and if those dark yards separating me from them put too fine a point on it then that was all well & good. Four of them relaxed on the garden furniture, discussing god-knows-what. In flutters, their conversation made it through as something that could be heard but not  listened to.

It was an electrical tapping. There was a rhythm to it. I kept my hand there, depressed or depressing. Still it kept tap-tap-tapping. It was quick. Soon, I thought, the gas will catch and who knows how big it will be. Why had it not caught already? But I could not move my hand, that was what I had promised myself. Finally, the gas caught the hob and it burped up around me in an orange flame that encompassed my hand and wrist. It was interesting to see how long the hairs on the tip of my radius burned, and they did, curling in little black spots. I smiled. The scent of burned hair is pleasing to me. I took myself to the sink and dusted myself into it. The hob glowed, pushing more heat into the warm room. Now the flesh underneath was naked as it was a baby, putting my finger across it over & again. Dried perspiration accentuated the texture of my skin, and I knew certainly that it was skin I had lumbered around all day. A reflection of myself came back off the fullheight window of my kitchen, and nobody in the building opposite when I was sure I had seen them in winter.

From what can be determined by unofficial accounts, M— decided she would conceive a child to overcome her concern she might regret not doing so in the future. It was not that she wanted to conceive at that particular moment, but after many prolonged periods of deep thought she determined that the risks would build as she aged into her late-thirties. It was all chronicled by elegant hands somewhere in the crevices of Canada. This was during the studies for her doctorate. She sent me photographs of her pregnancy next to the nudity of her partner. Of course her belly was swollen outward, her navel too. Her breasts had enlarged and her nipples darkened. It was above me to understand the demonstration M— made in my direction, French-Canadian I could not make out. All her body swam in blue-veined rivulets. She had this thickness of coarse hair enmeshed in the middle of her hips that she picked up between her fingers and let fall like the peaks of whisked eggwhites. A purple skull, not yet joined, came forth not long after. She chronicled them, too, with elegant hands somewhere in the crevices of Canada.

And what if a part of me banks on someone that I might not be alone forever? It crosses my mind, and I trace its jet-trails from comfort to insurance. I am a stubborn fool. ‘Don’t you hate going home after this?’ she asked me. ‘Yeah, and I open the fridge and there’s no food.’ ‘No, I meant it being all quiet and that.’ ‘O, no,’ I said to her—‘I love being alone.’ She frowned.
Perhaps a stranger! We could devise some brilliant arrangement of mutual company. She could forgo her complaints about me, and I about her. Dinner would be shared by both of us: she peels, I chop;  I grate, she stirs. At the table, an exchange on the trials of work. Empathetically I would absorb her monologue then offer thoughts; she would nod at my professional moaning. The television set keeps us together. A humourless BBC drama ringing out with little distinction from one episode to the other so that we lose track of days. We visit her family one weekend and make-believe we are in love. We visit my family the next and pretend we are unbreakable. In the evenings, she pulls me off and I put my fingers to her. We sleep a regular eight hours every night.

On my way back to the station, I came across an old colleague and friend. He informed me that the trains were cancelled as someone had been struck. He delivered this information to me at the cross junction with all the apathy of someone who has used the British rail network every day for over two decades and is accustomed to the occasional suicidal delay. He is a fine fellow and was quite unready to go for a timekilling drink with me on account of his wanting to lose weight. ‘Let’s walk down Moorgate,’ I said—‘Slowly. Maybe we’ll find a pub.’ We did, and went inside. I bought the first round, and we were quite merry when we emerged hours later, the body cleared away, the one-by-one rumbling of countybound carriages moving through fields of green crops. In the sleepy car, we spoke hushed, catching up. I knew him, then I knew his partner, his wife, his child, his thoughts of a second.

The night home was hot. Maybe it was the alcohol in my blood, but I was sweating considerably. Do not take the stairs. Inside the elevator, I looked in the mirror. My forehead was dashed with thunderbugs, which had taken to me during our late walk home together. Why do the thunderbugs crawling through the perspiration on my brow not drown? I plucked one out carefully, wiping it over my white shirt.